So began an unlikely partnership. For the past two-and-a-halfdecades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work.
And yet not so long ago it was a symbol of blessings and good fortune. Even its name is derived from Sanskrit roots meaning “it is good.” (Other names given to it include the cross patteé, the gammadion, the hakenkreuz or hooked cross, and the fylfot.) Today, in a somewhat truncated form, it still occupies a place in the official symbol of the Theosophical Society.
The peculiar fate of the swastika has a great deal to teach about the nature and meaning of symbols — and about the uses to which they can be put.
Will the funeral pyres of the Zoroastrians still alight the dusks of Iran and India? Will the Copts still maintain the well where Mary and Joseph quenched Jesus’ thirst upon the flight into Egypt? Will the Samaritans still smear the blood of the lamb upon their lintels as their ancestors in bondage did? Will the wooden idols of the Kalasha look out at the unforgiving and cragged landscape of the Kush? What of the Yazidis who believe that God is so benevolent that even the devil can be saved? Or the Mandaeans who whisper secrets in the language of the Magi and the Chaldean wizards?
The head of the army’s “black operations” in Northern Ireland, Captain Colin Wallace [said] that they deliberately stoked up a satanic panic from 1972 to 1974, even placing black candles and upside-down crucifixes in derelict buildings in some of Belfast’s war zones.
Then, army press officers leaked stories to newspapers about black masses and satanic rituals taking place from republican Ardoyne in north Belfast to the loyalist-dominated east of the city.
If nothing else, it kept gullible teenagers off the street late at night, maybe.
Then there is the Furry Dance itself. According to Ronald Hutton, the first mention of any Mayish activities in Helston is in 1600, but the dance is the last surviving Cornish Processional Dance (of which there were once many). It became popular, and formalised, in the nineteenth century, a legacy that remains, giving it the feel of something out of Trumpton.
There are four dances throughout the day, each processing right round the town and in and out of select shops and houses. They’re driven along by the Helston Town Band playing that tune.
If it’s a contender for the most irritating tune ever written then that’s only because some of us are old enough to remember Terry Wogan’s ghastly 1978 chart-topping rendition of the song (which is a later addition). In fact the tune is full of pomp and brilliantly infectious. It echoes round the streets and does the job of spurring the dancers on.
¶ Apuleius Platonicus tries to put to rest the idea that Hitler and his inner circle were some kind of Nazi Neo-Pagans with a post titled “Hitler Hated Heathens.”
I disagree though with his flip over to the position that Hitler was therefore pro-Christian. In fact, he regarded both Catholic and Lutheran clergy and those would revive ancient Germania as useful idiots — fine if they helped the cause; otherwise, they got a nice holiday at a camp in the countryside. Since the majority of Germans were Christians, it helped to have compliant clergy give the Nazi message a Christian garnish— pray for the troops, etc.
The shock value of Satanic transgression, ironically—and ideally—will lead to greater discussion about the place of religion in the public sphere. Will it lead to acceptance for marginalized groups? I’m not sure. But it illustrates quite clearly that the laws are for all.
Religion scholar Philip Jenkins has suggested these two sources—contemporary Satanic Panic and the “weird tales” of pulp horror—are connected. He suggests that it was the weird tales authors of the 1920s, notably Lovecraft and Herbert Gorman, who first introduced the idea of secret, murderous cults into the American consciousness.
From time to time, I’m asked if The Long-Lost Friend has anything to do with hex signs, those beautiful star and flower figures that decorate the barns across much of eastern Pennsylvania and adjacent areas where German settlers made their homes. The answer is, “Not really,” with a follow-up about the possibility of a mystical link that might or might not be present. Hex Signs provides us with answers to these questions, and much more.
Debbie Nathan, a journalist whose work did a lot to bring down the “Satanic panic” movement of the 1980s, has now turned her literary guns on a classic of my young adulthood: Sybil, supposedly a true story of a girl with multiple personalities.
Debbie Nathan’s “Sybil Exposed” is about psychiatric fads, outrageous therapeutic malpractice, thwarted ambition run amok, and several other subjects, but above all, it is a book about a book. Specifically, that book is Sybil, purportedly the true story of a woman with 16 personalities. First published in 1973, Sybil remains in print after selling over 6 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Somewhat similarly to Michelle Remembers (1980), it took the conjunction of a gullible (and fantasizing?) therapist and a definitely fantasy-prone patient who could spin out “unreliable confessions and bizarre fantasies” while under the influence of sodium pentothal “truth serum” to get the ball rolling.
Add a writer and later a screenwriter and you have literary and cinematic hits.
The therapist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, did her part to promote the myth of intergenerational satanic conspiracies:
She played a key role in promoting the belief that conspiracies of fiendish, sadistic adults were secretly perpetrating murder, child rape and mutilation, human sacrifice, and cannibalism across the country and that repressed memories of such atrocities lay at the root of most MPDs. Innocent people were convicted of these crimes on the basis of testimony elicited from highly suggestible small children and hypnotized adults. Families were sundered by therapists who convinced their patients that they’d suffered similar ordeals despite having no conscious memory of it. This opened the door to years of expensive and ineffective therapy.
Satanism is a subject that has always drawn a lot of media attention as well as interest from the general public. Scholarly studies of the subject, however, have more often focused on socially constructed “Satanic Panics” than on Satanism as a religious alternative in itself.
Recently, this has begun to change, and anthologies such as Contemporary Religious Satanism have started to fill the gaps in scholarly knowledge concerning Satanism.
A further attempt to remedy the situation was made when the first ever international scholarly conference on Satanism was organized in Trondheim, Norway, in 2009. The conference was a great success, and resulted in an anthology that will be published by Oxford University Press later this year.
In September 2011, we welcome you to Stockholm, Sweden for the follow-up to 2009’s gathering of specialists.
Deadline for abstracts: May 22, 2011.
Submit your abstract to email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> and email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> (remember to submit abstracts to both organisers).
Papers dealing with most aspects of Satanism are welcome (including Satanism in literature, cinema, etc). However, we discourage papers treating “the Satanic panic”, “Satanic ritual abuse”, etc, as these themes have received sufficient scholarly attention.